Sandra H. Elion, who retired from West Branch School at the end of the 2010-11 school year, recently was honored with a celebration at Jeremiah's, above the Bullfrog Brewery.
Elion was joined by her family, as well as West Branch faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends from every decade of her teaching years. Speeches in honor of the educator were made, and money was raised to help support the newly established Sandy Elion Scholarship Fund at West Branch School.
Elion taught and inspired students for 37 years, 33 of which were at West Branch. Her association with West Branch began in 1976, at the time her son was starting school.
Sandy Elion accepts her plaque, presented by Steve Hulslander, while adding a few words of her own for the audience.
A year after she enrolled her oldest child, she began teaching at the school. She taught across all grade levels, but she spent most of her West Branch career teaching third- through eighth-grade-aged students with co-teacher Steve Hulslander.
As the years passed, Elion watched her former students grow up.
Many went on to fine colleges and universities and established careers in academia, medicine, law, psychology, government, journalism, art and sports. Others became successful professionals in careers well-suited to them.
"It's just nice to see so many kids you've had become active citizens of the local community and other communities. To see them take their places in the world is beyond inspiring," she said.
Elion's route to Williamsport started in Chariton, Iowa, where she was born, and in Rock Island, Ill., where she was raised.
Elion was an outstanding student and a competitive swimmer, swimming at the nationals when she was 16 years old. Collegiate and high school sports for women in those days were minimal, and at 17, Elion went to Connecticut College for Women, planning to major in English.
But when she took a child development class from Eveline Omwake, a world-renowned expert in the field, she found her passion.
In the child development program, she studied young children at the college preschool.
"Everyone is completely different and at the same time very similar. That paradox is what makes teaching so exciting," said Elion.
That class, and others, made her want to work with children.
From Connecticut, Elion and her first husband, Robert Elion, returned to Iowa.
She taught in Iowa before enrolling in the University of Iowa, where she worked with children, using cutting-edge educational research at the lab school there. She earned her master's degree in elementary education.
One of her major research projects was studying the link between creativity and intelligence.
After living on the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota and in the Salem, Ore., area, Sandy, her husband and son moved to Bloomsburg.
This is where the school's history merges with Elion's. As she was investigating schools for her almost-school-aged son, she visited the red schoolhouse in Newberry.
"All the things that I had learned at Connecticut College and at the University of Iowa were there," she said.
She was so impressed, her family decided to relocate to Williamsport so that her son and daughter could attend West Branch School.
In 37 years of teaching, the job never bored Elion.
"The daily interaction between teacher and students is never the same thing twice," she said. "I love teaching. I love the kids. It's just amazing to see them grow from being 8-year-old students to 11- and 12-year-old students and then to pursue their various interests. I love to watch the light of understanding sparkle in their eyes. I love watching them mature academically and philosophically."
Elion has a special love for the intricacies of English, but has loved and taught all academic areas including the arts and sports. She also values that West Branch School emphasizes teaching students how to get along with others through the study of conflict resolution.
"At West Branch, we help them develop self-esteem and self-confidence. We help them feel good about themselves and about their decisions," she said. "We teach them to be accountable."
Co-teacher Steve Hulslander worked with Elion for most of her West Branch career. He said that, "Sandy has always been a staunch supporter of the school. Her concern for the school's integrity, mission and processes are a glowing tribute."
Hulslander complimented her contributions to many aspects of the West Branch School experience in addition to the classroom, including Winter Olympics and city trips.
"She was more than 'game' when it came to creative approaches to teaching problem-solving, developing leadership skills and encouraging team decision-making."
Retirement doesn't mean the end of Elion's career. She is in her 19th year as an assistant coach of the Men's and Women's Division I Swimming and Diving Team at Bucknell University, Lewisburg. One of her swimmers, Taylor Harris, noted, "Sandy is a fantastic coach, mentor and friend."
Elion also is active at St. Andrew Church in Lewisburg. She is a Eucharistic minister, scheduler, head of the Altar Guild and on the vestry there.
Elion, who lives in Lewisburg with husband Carl Milofsky, has two children, two stepchildren and four grandchildren.
"My magic wand would create school systems that meet the needs of everyone with approaches similar to West Branch School's. There would be many more open grade-level opportunities and more teachers to work in true teams. Schools would focus on the personal development patterns and paths of each individual child."